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Honor comes to those who serve

Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Jacobson

Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Jacobson

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Many of you have probably heard of the death of Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Jacobson, 17th Security Forces Squadron, who was deployed to Iraq and died when an improvised explosive device exploded as her convoy traveled Sept. 28.
Airman Jacobson, who was assigned to Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, was the first female Airman to die in the line of fire supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as the first Air Force Security Forces member to perish. She was only 21 years old.

I had the honor of being her family's liaison to the news media Sunday at her funeral as her hometown was nearby in Riviera Beach, Fla. In addition to phone calls leading up to the funeral, I got to spend about 45 minutes with Airman Jacobson's father, mother and stepmother. This was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life.

What do you say to someone who just lost their child? How does one sympathize without being able to empathize? I had never been to a funeral, because I had never had anyone close to me who passed away.

I knew when I was given the chance to work with the family that it would be emotionally very difficult for me. I cannot imagine the sorrow a mother or father must feel losing their child.

Arriving at the funeral home near Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., the magnitude of the situation hit hard. I didn't feel worthy to console the family because finding words was so difficult.

However, something happened when I walked in to meet her parents. They were so thankful to have Air Force members at the funeral, including Col. Scott Bethel, commander of the 17th Training Wing at Goodfellow AFB; Maj. Kenneth O'Neil, 17th SFS commander; Patrick Air Force Base Chaplain (Maj.) Peggy Wilkins and the Patrick AFB Honor Guard.

David Jacobson, Airman Jacobson's father, told us stories of Elizabeth - her love of the Air Force and her security forces duties, her desire to be a chief master sergeant someday, and the way she always volunteered to do the jobs no one else wanted. The fateful convoy mission was one such duty she had tried to get for a long time, rather than be in the guard tower, where it was relatively safe.

The part that was so surprising to me was the outpouring of support by family members to military members for the jobs we all have to do to protect this nation. There were no sentiments of bitterness or anger toward the military.

"People don't understand that if we don't win the war in Iraq, the United States will not exist," Mr. Jacobson said. "Elizabeth liked being a troop and was so proud. She made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and the cause of freedom."

As she was laid to rest with all her mourners around her, seeing our honor guard perform the ceremony, hearing "Taps" and hearing and feeling the flyover of two T-38s, I felt rushes of humility and pride.

I have never been as proud to be a member of the U.S. Air Force as I was Sunday. It made me realize that even though some of us haven't been deployed, haven't directly supported OIF or the Global War on Terrorism, we all play a vital role to the citizens of the United States. We just have to do our jobs with honor and with the love that Airman Jacobson showed for her own job; and that Airman Jacobson's family showed for her and all of us who wear the uniform.

(Additional information provided by Air Force Personnel Center Public Affairs.)